Monday, April 28, 2014

Such a Time as This

(Written as a daily devotion for my college Christian fellowship's mailing list)

"For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
-- Esther 4:14, NKJV

Esther is one of the two books of the Bible that don't explicitly mention God, and yet God's work is apparent throughout the story of Esther. In this passage, Esther had told her cousin Mordecai that she risks dying if she approaches the king without being summoned, even though she's queen, and this is part of Mordecai's response. 

Mordecai doesn't doubt that God will come to the aid of the Jewish people. What he does question is Esther's belief that she is powerless. From Mordecai's view, Esther is in a perfect position for God to use her to help her people. "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To Know, To Prove, To Sing, To Love

Happy Second Easter! Here's the sixth verse (the last in the United Methodist Hymnal) of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today:"

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

This is everlasting life.

When Jesus rose again, conquering the grave, we were indeed promised a future. Just as importantly, though, we were promised a present. We have life now. That life is everlasting, but eternal life isn't something we have to look forward to -- it is something we have now, if we have faith. So what is this life that is given to us?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hail the Resurrection

Happy sixth day of the Easter season! Here's the fifth verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today:"

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

In John 11:25-26, Jesus has met Martha on the road after Lazarus' death. Martha has told Jesus that had He been there, Lazarus would not have died. This is how Jesus replies:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Some older sources even just say, "I am the resurrection." That's the key part here. Jesus is the Resurrection; Jesus is the One who rises again and in doing so allows us to rise again. We were dead; in Christ, we are alive.

In the synoptics, when the Sadducees question Jesus about resurrection, He gives a long response, but it ends with something like this: "God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living." In heaven and earth, we are alive because of Christ, and in that life we are God's. Spiritual death and sin separate us from God, but God reaches out to us and brings us back into the fold through Christ's death and resurrection. 

Our death is not permanent. We rise again with faith in the Lord, and we meet God -- Father, Son, and Spirit -- with praise. Hallelujah to the Lord of earth and heaven, hallelujah to our King, hallelujah to the Way, the Truth, the Life, and hallelujah to the Resurrection!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ours the Cross, the Grave, the Skies

Happy fifth day of Easter!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

It's easy to forget that Easter is a season, not just one Sunday. We spend fifty days in the white and joy of the Paschal season (not to mention that every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection and thus a mini-Easter). So last year, I decided to do something for Easter just like I do something for Lent. I challenged myself to take a picture of the sky for every day of the Easter season.

Why the sky? The main reason was actually the fourth line of this fourth verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." This is my favorite verse for sure, and I love that last line. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies! Yes, 'skies' can refer to the heavens and so to eternal life, but the literal sky is one of the places where we can see God's new creation everyday, and that's what Easter is all about. It's not the best picture of new life, since the sky isn't alive, but aren't sunsets and stars and patterns of clouds breath-taking when you stop and look at them? The skies show God's creation, power, and majesty everyday. I wanted to stop and remember that God is present in the world just as much now as God was when Jesus rose from the dead.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where's Thy Victory, Boasting Grave?

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

This is the third verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," and the second and fourth lines are some of my favorites in the entire hymn. They're inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:55, which in turn references Hosea 13:14. Here's the Hosea verse:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes.

This was God's promise to the people long before Jesus was born, and in Jesus' death and resurrection God fulfills that promise. Christ has died, and Christ is risen. Death can no longer hold us. We are ransomed; we are redeemed. All that power that death and the grave had over us is turned on them by God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christ Has Opened Paradise

Note: This is the second post in a series on "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." The first post is here.  
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

This verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" is, in some ways, a lot more dense than the first. There are a lot of ideas here: love, redemption, death, triumph, and paradise.

First, love and redemption. Love's redeeming work is done. God came to us in human form as Jesus out of love. Jesus loved God's children, his sheep, to the very end, which was death and beyond. A Service of Word and Table paraphrases Romans when it says "Christ died while we were yet sinners. This proves God's love for us," and that's probably my favorite statement of this idea ever. God loves us enough that the part of God that took human form died so that we, who had gone astray, could be redeemed. When Jesus rose, conquering sin and death and freeing us, love's redeeming work was done. We still sin, and God still forgives and grants us grace upon grace, but that grace was secured for us in Christ's death and resurrection. We just have to accept it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Ask Me How I Know He Lives?

(Written as a daily devotional for my college's Christian Fellowship email list)
I serve a risen Savior, he's in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever foes may say.
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, He's always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I knew He lives? He lives within my heart.
- "He Lives," words and music by Alfred Ackley
"He Lives" is one of the hymns I associate most with the idea of being an Easter people. Christ is risen, and God is with us.

On the day of his resurrection, Jesus met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, and He walked and talked with them. They didn't recognize him, though, until He blessed and broke bread (Luke 24:13-35). Similarly, Mary Magdalene was in the garden and spoke to Jesus but thought He was the gardener until He called her by name (John 20:11-18).

Mary Magdalene and the disciples thought their Lord was dead and so weren't looking for him in the world around them. But if we know that Christ is alive, then we can see him around us and, more importantly, within us. The Spirit guides us, teaches us, and helps us. Our failings are ever before us, and yet God pours out mercy on us again and again because through Christ's life and death we have received God's grace. We break bread with each other, and whenever we gather in Christ's name, the Lord is with us. Christ calls us by name to do God's work.

We are not alone. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Each day this week I'm going to write a post inspired by a verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," the best known Easter hymn!

I truly can't imagine an Easter morning without this song as the opening hymn. "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" means Easter to me. Because I've grown up in Methodist churches, the version I know is the one in the United Methodist Hymnal, so I'll use those lyrics. So, here's the first verse:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

This is a verse full of joy. First of all, it gets right to the point: Christ the Lord is risen today. And while this is definitely a traditional hymn, it is true *anytime*. Christ the Lord is risen *today*. If we are Easter people, then that means we experience and rejoice in the resurrection daily. God is always renewing us, filling us with joy, and reminding us that we have abundant life in Christ now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Happy Easter!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

May you find peace and joy in the empty tomb and our risen Lord.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

 Jesus is our Rock, the basis of our faith, and not just our faith, but the faith of many throughout centuries. He is Rock of Ages, and Christ died for each and every one of us, redeeming us, freeing us of sin and death. We no longer needed to endure God's wrath. We were now pure. It was as written in Isaiah: But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises are we healed. Christ bore all of our sin, though he himself was sinless, and he died on the cross to pay our debts.

He rose to forever free us from those debts, to declare that sin would never have power over those who believed.

All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

The second verse of Augustus M. Toplady's "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" ends with those two lines. No matter what work we do, no matter how much we follow God's law, no matter how much faith and zeal we have, we still sin, and our remorse and good works can't save us. We need grace and mercy from God, which is granted to us not for our works but by Christ's death. Only Christ can save.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

This is the sound and story of Good Friday.

Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?

Our Lord died not on steel, but on wood. Christ was humble in birth and in death.  The hammer pounds; the crowd jeers. "Come down from the cross!" they call. But Christ was obedient unto death, even death on a tree.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let Us Keep The Feast

I went to an Episcopal school for four years, and though it's been a while, when you go to chapel twice a week for that long, some things become ingrained. For me, one of those things was Rite II Eucharist, which includes the line:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.

That, for me, is Maundy Thursday.

I love Holy Week services and especially Holy Week music, and Maundy Thursday is no exception. I'll start off with the name: Maundy Thursday. Some people call it Holy Thursday, which is true, but much less evocative. Maundy comes from a root meaning commandment:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, NKJV)

In John, the Last Supper isn't the night of Passover. Instead, Christ himself is the Paschal lamb (Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us), and the Last Supper is really all about the instruction Jesus gives the disciples. He prepares them for the future, telling them that God will send the Spirit, that their joy will be complete, that he is leaving them his peace, and to take heart, for he has overcome the world.

But first, Jesus washes his disciples' feet, and then he commands them to love each other as he has loved them. The beginning of John 13 says: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the very end. I've always liked the idea of loving to the very end. Jesus, knowing that among the disciples was one who would betray him, another who would deny him, and nine more who would run away, nevertheless loved them fully and completely to the end. That's the kind of love God gives us, and that's the kind of love I want to emulate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Though Empires Rise and Fall

Note: I unabashedly adore Good Friday music, so even though today is only Spy Wednesday, I'm going to start on a series of posts about Good Friday hymns.

Fred Pratt Green is one of my father's favorite hymn writers, and there's a Fred Pratt Green hymn to a tune called Kingsfold that I really like: "To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord." Let's take this verse by verse:

To mock your reign, O dearest Lord
They made a crown of thorns
Set you with taunts along that road
From which no one returns.
They could not know, as we do now
How glorious is that crown;
That thorns would flower upon your brow,
Your sorrows heal our own.

The first bit of this that particularly sticks out to me is "that road from which no one returns." Death wasn't something from which people returned. Crucifixion was painful punishment, and it was final. But Christ did return. We need no longer fear that road because in Christ, it's not an ending.

The other part I really like is this: "They could not know, as we do now, how glorious is that crown." Going through the next few verses we'll see that the beginning part of that line is repeated, but this is my favorite time it's used. A crown is normally a thing of glory, but this was a crown of thorns, used to mock, to make humble, to bring low -- and yet, Jesus is King of Kings. That crown was the most glorious of all, not the least.

Here's the second verse:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

By Your Holy Cross

I went to a Stations of the Cross service at a local Episcopal church tonight. While I've grown up Methodist, I went to 3rd-6th grades at a school associated with an Episcopal church, so I grew rather fond of the stations.
The service tonight went through eight stations, and each one started with this:
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world

And then each station ended with this, followed by the ringing of a gong:
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

It was a short service -- only about thirty minutes -- but it presented the Passion in a very visual and physical way. There was a candle and an image or object at most stations, and we walked as a group from station to station. At the fourth station, "Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem," we even all tore off a piece of herb, dipped it in a dish, and ate it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Look Around: In the Service of Love

Written as a devotion for my college Christian fellowship's mailing list

"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."
-- Luke 7:22 (NIV)

When John's disciples approached Jesus, saying John had said to ask if Jesus was the one who was to come, this is the reply the Lord gives. It comes down to this: look around and consider what you see. Jesus doesn't give them an answer directly, leaving it to John's disciples to interpret what is occurring.

How do we know that God is acting in our lives? How do we know that God is answering prayers? Look around. Maybe what you see isn't what you expected -- did John's disciples expect someone who came for the least and the lost? -- but we're surrounded by God all the same. It could be in little places, when we have to listen hard to hear the still, small voice. Maybe it's much more dramatic, like what Jesus pointed out to John's disciples. Either way, in our lives, God is present; thanks be to God.

How do we reflect God's presence in our lives? The list Jesus gives here is really focused on action and service. It's all about how our faith expresses itself. One of my favorite statements of faith says this:

"We believe that this faith should manifest itself 
in the service of love
as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord,
to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth."

Jesus showed love in a lot of ways, but there was always action. Love is the greatest commandment. It's the commandment that defines the Lord's Supper as told in John:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
-- John 13:34-35

Jesus calls us to love, and in calling us to love as He loved us, He calls us to love actively. We look around and see God's love for us. Jesus didn't have to say that He was the one who was to come; John's disciples could see. That's the way and extent to which we're called to love.

(There's a hymn I love that's related to this: Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hosanna in the Highest!

It's always been tempting for me to think of Palm Sunday as just a triumphant entry or the beginning of Holy Week. In recent years, I've also too often simplified Palm Sunday to the observation that the people thought Jesus was one kind of king, and while Jesus is certainly King, He's not the king the people thought He was. From that point of view, Palm Sunday seems like the celebration of a mistake.

There's something right in each of those, but they're only the full story together, and that's framed really well in the hymns. Palm Sunday is worth celebrating because Jesus is King, because Christ did come to save, because Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Yes, people were wrong about what kind of king Jesus would be, but we know, and we have something to learn about celebration and praise from the people who lined the path with cloaks and waved palm branches.

I've found that I understand Palm Sunday best through the two hymns which I associate with this day: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" and "All Glory, Laud, and Honor." Here's "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude, Praise, Transformation

Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful, these You deserve.

My Church uses a couple of different rites for communion. One of them is the Great Thanksgiving in the United Methodist Hymnal. The other is from A Wee Worship Book. It begins as does the Great Thanksgiving: The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

But then, it goes on to the line I quoted at the top. Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful. This is how we should come to the table: praising God. It is right to give our thanks and praise; we've already said that. The shift is in address, from addressing each other to addressing God. These You deserve. God deserves all our thanks and all our praise, and as we come to the table of communion, these are essential. (However, it's worth noting that what comes first is not thanksgiving and praise but rather the notion of God's presence. The Lord be with you.)

The service goes on like this (below the fold!):

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

All the Fitness He Requireth

This past Sunday's Lectionary readings included Psalm 130 and John 11: 1-45 (raising of Lazarus). In my personal reading last night, I read Jesus calling Peter, James, and John in Luke 5, and I noticed a common theme that, for me, is best expressed around the hymn "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy." The lines of which I've been particularly reminded are in the fourth verse:

Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him. 

I referred to the story in John as the raising of Lazarus, but verses 17-27 are really a story about Martha. Martha expresses belief that had Jesus been there, he would have been able to prevent Lazarus' death, and then she says (NIV): "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus tells her Lazarus will rise again, and Martha says that she knows there will be resurrection on the last day.
To that, Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Lord," Martha replies, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. If we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die. Jesus doesn't call us to someday; Jesus calls us to here and now. We have new life in Him now. We don't have to wait. Martha confesses Christ, and she has life. So too can we.

The Many Arrangements of Beach Spring

About two and a half years ago, a friend and I started talking about Be Thou My Vision, and she proceeded to post about three dozen versions of the song to my Facebook wall

As I mentioned in the last post, Beach Spring is one of my favorite tunes ever, and it's the tune to a lot of hymns. Off the top of my head: "Lord Whose Love Through Humble Service," "Sunday's Palms are Wednesday's Ashes," "Come and Find the Quiet Center," "As a Fire Is Meant for Burning," "God of Day and God of Darkness," and "Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters."

This weekend I went through all those Be Thou My Vision links and listened to them again, and I was inspired. So, you get many versions of Beach Spring and the various hymns to which it is a tune. They're below the fold!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Finding Scope for Faith Begun

Come and find the quiet center
In the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the frame where we are freed;
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that really matter,
Be at peace, and simply be.

This hymn by Shirley Erena Murray is in the Invitation section of The Faith We Sing, a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal. It's to one of my favorite tunes, Beach Spring, but I also love the lyrics and their expression of God's grace.

In The Faith We Sing, Invitation is a subsection within Grace, but in the United Methodist Hymnal, it's more specific: Invitation is a subsection within Prevenient Grace. What I love about "Come and Find the Quiet Center,' though, is that I can also read it as a hymn of justifying or sanctifying grace, not just prevenient grace. The first verse, which I quoted above, is more on the prevenient side, with the call to come and find, but the last line is very lasting. Be at peace, and simply be.